Development of an Early Standard Narrative

Although direct connections do not seem to have existed, several features of al-Ya'qubl’s exposition of Roman history can also be found in three Arabic- Islamic works written in the Middle East of the tenth century. These are the History of Prophets and Kings by al-Tabari (d. 310/923), the geo-, ethno-, and historiographical work Meadows of Gold and Mines of Gems by al-Mas'udi (d. 345/956), and a computational work entitled Vestiges of the Past by al-Blrunl (d. c.442/1050). All three authors name their sources, which are all of Middle Eastern origin.

Al-Tabari fails to mention Latin or Greek written sources and does not seem to have drawn on Ibn Khurdadhbah or al-Ya'qubi. He made use of Arab traditionists and genealogists such as Ibn Ishaq, Wahb b. Munabbih, and Sa'id b. al-Musayyib to define the ‘Rum’ as descendants either of Esau or of one of Noah’s sons/1 He adopted the basic features of this genealogy from Jews under Islamic rule/2 In addition, he refers to ‘experts on the deeds and sciences of the ancients’/3 ‘experts on Persian history’,84 as well as Jews and Christians under Islamic rule, termed ‘scholars among the people of the book in Palestine’/5 His list of ‘who among the Romans ruled Syria’ is based on ‘the testimony of Christians’/6

Al-Mas'udl’s basic geographic outlook seems to derive from Ptolemy/7 The Torah and other books of the Hebrews served as sources on the Romans’ origins/8 He fails to mention al-Ya'qubi, but praises Ibn Khurdadhbah for having compiled much historical data in a work no longer extant.89 The number of emperors who ruled from Rome before the imperial capital shifted to Constantinople, has a parallel in Ibn Khurdadhbah’s Book of Routes and Realms.9° Although al-Mas'udl refers to al-Tabari^1 a comparison of their respective lists of emperors shows that al-Tabari mentions more emperors than al-Mas'udl and often spells their names differently. In addition, al-Mas'udi’s chapter on Roman history lists several Christian sources. Aside from an obscure reference to ‘another copy’,92 he mentions a chronicle of the ‘Rum’ from the ‘church of Qusyan’ in Antioch93 as well as the ‘histories of Jewish and Christian legal authorities’^4 He admits that he was only able to reproduce oral sources since most history books were in the language ‘al-Rumiyya’, and refers his readers to the Melkite Christian chronicles for further information.95

In one of his prefatory explanations, al-Blrum refutes ‘historians’ who related that Jesus was born in the forty-third year of Augustus’ reign.9fi His second list of Christian emperors entitled ‘the rulers of Constantinople’ (muluk Qustantiniyya) is based on the report of Hamza al-Isfahani on the authority of al-Waki' al-qadi who ‘took them from a book that belonged to the ruler of the Rum’, i.e. the Byzantine emperor.97

All three scholars used a different mixture of ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ sources. Although none of them seems to have exploited al-Ya'qubi’s universal history, their exposition of Roman history shows remarkable parallels with al-Ya'qubi’s work. All chapters are written around a list of emperors. Additional facts are written into this list, most commonly the number of years an emperor ruled.

The most basic form is provided by al-Tabari. He begins with Tiberius and ends with Heraclius, restricting himself to emperors who ruled Syria after Jesus’ Ascension up to the era of Muhammad. His list is not divided into different sections. It consists of the respective emperor’s name, introduced by the phrase ‘Then ruled . . .’ followed by the number of years he ruled.98

Al-Blrum provides three more elaborate lists. The first list is devoted to pagan Roman rulers, beginning with Augustus’ conquest of Ptolemaic Egypt and ending [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10]

with Carus and Carinus. The second list is dedicated to Christian Roman emperors, beginning with Diocletian and ending with Basilius the Slavonian, allegedly ‘the last of their kings’. The third list registers the rulers of Constantinople. It begins with Constantine I, ends with Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos and is clearly marked as being of Byzantine origin."

In contrast, al-Mas'udi’s list is embedded into an elaborate tripartite prose chapter. Reflections on the Romans’ origins are followed by an elaborate account of the pagan Roman emperors. Starting points are the rule of Julius Caesar and Augustus’ conquest of Ptolemaic Egypt. This first subchapter ends with the reign of Constantine.[11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] The second subchapter begins with Constantine’s foundation of Constantinople as well as his conversion to Christianity and reaches up to the reign of Heraclius.101 The third subchapter, dedicated to Byzantine rulers after the appearance of Islam, discusses during whose reign Muhammad was born. The list leads up to the times of al-Mas'udi, i.e. the joint rule of Romanos I, Constantine, and Stephanos.102

Thus, Middle Eastern Arabic-Islamic scholars of the late ninth to the early eleventh centuries displayed a well-founded notion of Roman imperial history, especially if one considers that the respective passages never contain all the information available to the respective scholar. Al-Tabari mentions further aspects of Roman history in chapters dedicated to the history of the Israelites^ and the Diadochi.104 Al-Mas'udl discusses aspects of Roman history in chapters dealing with the Sas- sanid Persians,105 the Ptolemaic dynasty,^ the Roman measurement of time,W7 as well as important religious buildings.W8

Notwithstanding, all lists are deficient in that their version of Roman history only begins with the Roman intrusion into the Middle East. All scholars reckoned with a pre-imperial Roman past. Al-Tabari touches upon the Romans’ origins in chapters dealing with the post-diluvian population of the earth, the first rulers of the world, and the descendants of Abraham.W9 Al-Mas'udl states that Rome already existed 400 years before Julius Caesar assumed power.110 In line with al-Ya'qubi, al-Biruni defines the Romans as the progeny of Esau.m But what happened between these illustrious but ill-defined origins and the conquest of the Middle East remains obscure. The scholars’ chronological horizon was clearly limited. They lacked knowledge on Rome’s foundation, its early kings, and its republican phase, i.e. the early period of Roman history that mainly took place in the West. 42

Consequently, their geographical horizon was also reduced in scope. All scholars dealt with so far mentioned the city of Rome. Ibn Khurdadhbah, al-Mas'ud!, al-Tabari, and al-B!run! asserted that several emperors resided there before the imperial capital was transferred to Constantinople.[24] [25] [26] [27] [28] [29] [30] [31] [32] Ibn Khurdadhbah referred to the ‘people of the west’ (ahlal-Maghrib) under Roman rule,n4 while al-Ya'qub!’s Roman Empire extended up to, maybe even into the lands of the Franks.m Al-Mas'udl even knew that Theodosius I was from the Iberian Peninsula, claiming that he belonged to a people called Ashban’, a people he defined rather vaguely as ‘one of these old nations that have ruled over Syria, Egypt, the Maghreb and al-Andalus’.n6 Notwithstanding, they all failed to bring into prominence that, before its acquisition of eastern possessions and the shift from Rome to Constantinople, Rome constituted the largest and most powerful polity in the western Euromediterranean.

Moreover, they all ignored that the empire irrevocably split up under the sons of Theodosius I. In al-Tabari’s list, the latter’s seven-year rule is followed by the twenty-year joint rule of Arcadius and Honorius, the sixteen-year rule of Theodosius II and Valentinian, as well as the seven-year rule of Marcian. Nothing indicates that Honorius and Valentinian only ruled the western half of the empire.U7 Al-Mas'udl even suppresses the phenomenon of joint rule and focuses on eastern emperors. In his account, Theodosius I is followed by Arcadius who is replaced by Theodosius II.ns Al-Blrun! does the same in his second list of Christian rulers. Only his third list of rulers who resided in Constantinople features the joint rule of Gratian and Valentinian, but fails to point to their western sphere of activity or to the empire’s division.U9 All versions ignore the establishment of Romano- Germanic successors in the West as well as Justinian’s ‘reconquest’ of Vandal North Africa, Ostrogothic Italy, and parts of Visigothic Iberia.120

Thus, many features are common to the accounts of Roman history written by al-Ya'qub!, al-Tabari, al-Mas'ud!, and al-Blrunl, four scholars of Middle Eastern origin who never seem to have set foot on territory farther west than Egypt.m More organized than Ibn Khurdadhbah’s fragmentary exposition, their ordered narrative builds on a repertoire of elements that constitute what we could call an early standard narrative. Based on Middle Eastern sources of mainly Christian, but also of Jewish and Persian origin, this standard narrative is made up of several theories on the Romans’ genealogical origins, neglects the period of the Roman republic, but features substantial lists of emperors of varying content and quality. Although it betrays an awareness of the Roman Empire’s western origins, it focuses on Middle Eastern events, ignores the empire’s territorial extensions in Spain, Gaul, Britain, etc., and rarely mentions western toponyms. By leading Roman history from its origins to the present Byzantine ruler in Constantinople, it reproduces a rather ‘Byzantine’ interpretation of Roman history. Its range of vision is centred on the Byzantine sphere that, this should be noted, still included North Africa up to the Muslim conquest in the late seventh century, Rome up to the papal alliance with the Carolingians in the middle of the eighth century, and Sicily up to the Muslim conquest in the ninth century.m

  • [1] Ibid., § 9, p. 14 (AR), p. 5 (FR). On the lost work, see Ibn Khurdadhbah, al-masalik, ed. deGoeje, p. x (Introduction).
  • [2] 9° Ibn Khurdadhbah, al-masalik, ed. de Goeje, p. 104, states that twenty-nine emperors ruled inRome, two in Nicomedia and two in Rome before Constantine. Al-Mas'udi, muruj, ed./trans. Pellat,§ 733, p. 40 (AR), p. 274 (FR), fails to mention Nicomedia and states that forty-nine emperors ruledbefore Constantine.
  • [3] Ibid., § 10, pp. 14-15 (AR), p. 7 (FR).
  • [4] 92 Ibid., § 717, p. 33 (AR): ‘nuskha ukhra’, p. 270 (FR).
  • [5] Ibid., § 719, p. 34 (AR), pp. 270-1 (FR). The church of St Peter in Antioch was called ‘Qusyan’,cf. Gabrieli, Historians (1984), p. 8 n. 2.
  • [6] al-Mas'udl, muruj, ed./trans. Pellat, § 726, p. 38 (AR): ‘tawarikh ashab al-shara’i' min ahlal-kutub’, pp. 272-3 (FR).
  • [7] Ibid., § 733, p. 40 (AR), p. 274 (FR): ‘wa-aktharuha bi-l-Rumiyya fa-hakayna min dhalik mata’atta lana wasfuhu’.
  • [8] 96 al-Biruni, al-athar, ed./trans. Sachau, p. 29 (AR), p. 33 (EN): ‘ashab al-akhbar’.
  • [9] Ibid., p. 97 (AR): ‘naqalaha min kitabin li-malik al-Rum’, p. 106 (EN) cf. Branco, Storie (2009),pp. 131-2, on these persons.
  • [10] al-Tabari, tarikh, ed. Ibrahim, vol. 1, pp. 606-8; cf. Branco, Storie (2009), pp. 117-18.
  • [11] al-Biruni, al-athar, ed./trans. Sachau, pp. 97—8 (AR), p. 106 (EN).
  • [12] 1°° al-Mas'udi, muruj, ed./trans. Pellat, § 715—33, pp. 32^0 (AR), pp. 269—74 (FR).
  • [13] Ibid., § 734-54, pp. 41-52 (AR), pp. 275-82 (FR).
  • [14] Ю2 Ibid., § 755-72, pp. 53-64 (AR), pp. 283-91 (FR).
  • [15] al-Tabari, tarikh, ed. Ibrahim, vol. 1, pp. 540-1.
  • [16] Ю4 Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 581-2. Al-Tabari, pp. 575-8, also counts Alexander among ‘al-Rum’.
  • [17] al-Mas'udi, muruj, ed./trans. Pellat, § 605-06, pp. 298-9 (AR), pp. 226-7 (FR).
  • [18] Ю6 Ibid., § 699-714, pp. 24-31 (AR), pp. 263-8 (FR).
  • [19] Ibid., § 1297, pp. 341-2 (AR), p. 494 (FR), on the names of Roman months.
  • [20] Ibid., § 1382, p. 386 (AR), p. 530 (FR); § 1385, p. 388 (AR), p. 531 (FR). The author ascribes pagan religious architecture to the Greeks and Romans that is not necessarily of Roman origin, suchas the temple of Carthage. Christian architecture is not mentioned.
  • [21] al-Tabari, tarikh, ed. Ibrahim, vol. 1, pp. 201, 208, 209-10, 214, 318.
  • [22] al-Mas'udi, muruj, ed./trans. Pellat, § 717, pp. 33^ (AR), p. 270 (FR).
  • [23] al-Ya'qubi, tarikh, ed. al-Muhanna, vol. 1, p. 186; al-Biruni, al-athar, ed./trans. Sachau, p. 93(AR), p. 104 (EN).
  • [24] Cf. Branco, Storie (2009), p. 108: ‘Come nella maggior parte delle cronache bizantine, la Romamonarchica e repubblicana e completamente ignorata . . .’.
  • [25] из Ibn Khurdadhbah, al-masalik, ed. de Goeje, p. 104; al-Mas'ud!, muruj, ed./trans. Pellat,§ 715—33, pp. 32^0 (AR), pp. 269—74 (FR); al-Tabar!, tarikh, ed. Ibrah!m, vol. 1, p. 581; al-B!run!,al-athar, ed./trans. Sachau, p. 93 (AR), p. 104 (EN).
  • [26] 114 Ibn Khurdadhbah, al-masalik, ed. de Goeje, pp. 83, 103—4.
  • [27] al-Ya'qub!, tarikh, ed. al-Muhanna, vol. 1, pp. 186—7, 199.
  • [28] U6 al-Mas'ud!, muruj, ed./trans. Pellat, § 747, p. 49 (AR): ‘wa-hiya ba d al-umam al-salifa, wa-qadkanat mimman malaka al-Sham wa-Misr wa-l-Maghrib wa-l-Andalus’, p. 280 (FR). On the Ashban’,see Chapter 5.1. and 5.2.1.
  • [29] al-Tabar!, tarikh, ed. Ibrah!m, vol. 1, p. 608.
  • [30] al-Mas'ud!, muruj, ed./trans. Pellat, § 748, p. 49 (AR), p. 280 (FR).
  • [31] 119 al-B!run!, al-athar, ed./trans. Sachau, pp. 92—8 (AR), pp. 103—6 (EN).
  • [32] Cf. al-Ya'qub!, tarikh, ed. al-Muhanna, vol. 1, p. 198; al-Tabar!, tarikh, ed. Ibrah!m, vol. 1,p. 608; al-Mas'ud!, muruj, ed./trans. Pellat, § 753, p. 51 (AR), p. 281 (FR); al-B!run!, al-athar, ed./trans. Sachau, pp. 95—8 (AR), pp. 105-6 (EN).
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